My Life With Gracie…Only For A Season

Only For A Season

Emily hopped unexpectedly into my lap. I was setting some pavers and bricks for a new garden path. Everyone else was pecking and scratching in their backyard playground, but Emily had slipped through a small gap in the fencing.

“I remember the first time you slipped through that little gap. None of the others know it is there.”

“Yes, sometimes there really are advantages to being the smallest,” Emily said.

“But you didn’t go off hunting for worms like the others would have done.”

“What was I doing instead?” she asked, even though she already knew what I would say.

“You were walking down one of the garden paths just looking at all of the beautiful flowers around you.”

“And why wasn’t I looking for bugs first?”

“Because, just like you told me, the bugs will always be there, but the flowers are with us only for a season.”

Emily smiled her happiest smile. Her love for the garden was something connecting us.

This was the beginning of what has come to resemble an old family story, one Emily and I tell to each other. It is the kind of story that gets told and retold, the kind that anyone outside the family might not completely understand, but we did. It is a story Emily loved to hear again and again, and one I never want to forget.

“I will always remember how you walked in the garden that day.”

“Can you draw me like that? Like how I was walking?” she asked as she had done so many times before.

“I have tried time and time again, but I can’t quite get it right. Still, it’s a picture in my heart, and perhaps that is the best kind of picture to have, one that can’t fade or become old and wrinkled.”

“And how was I walking?” she asked.

“In a way slowly to take it all in, and yet in a way quickly so as not to miss anything.”

“How can someone walk quickly and slowly both at the same time?” she asked. This was a new question she had decided to add to our story, and it delighted me.

“I am not sure. But you did. Beauty does that, especially when enjoyed by a heart like yours.”

“Beauty must be able to suspend time,” she mused. “But why do you suddenly look so sad?”

“Because when I was drawing a picture of your coop and some of the iris flowers, I realized how much the chicken wire fencing obscures their beauty from your view. You don’t get to walk through the garden as often as you’d like. I’m sure.”

“But when I do, I enjoy every minute of it. Do you know what I might like best about the iris blossoms? They have those yellow parts that look like big fuzzy caterpillars. You call them ‘beards’ but they look like ‘bugs’ to a chicken. I imagine if we were to eat one, it would tickle all the way down to my tummy.”

I imagined this tickling sensation with her, and we giggled.

“But I don’t hate the fencing or the chicken wire. They keep me safe.”

“They also keep you from seeing everything clearly.”

“Have you ever noticed how when you come home we are usually sitting close to the fence? Do you know why we do that?”

“I just always figured it was because you were eager for me to get home.”

“For some afternoon fruit? Well, maybe, but that is not the real reason. When we sit away from the fence, all we see is the fence. But when we sit close to the fence, we do not see the fence, just what is on the other side of the fence. We feel safe, but we also see the beauty.”

I felt there must be a lesson in what she had just told me, but I couldn’t ponder it just then. My mind was still trying to comprehend what she had said about beauty being able to suspend time. This is certainly not an idea that would occur to most chickens and certainly not to me on my own.

“Maybe you’d like to draw and paint some iris blossoms while we wait for them to bloom later this spring.”

“I would like that. With a picture, I can enjoy them all year round. They really are very easy to make. Just a chicken foot, three hearts one way, three hearts the other way, and three fuzzy caterpillars. It can’t get much easier.”

“Maybe you can teach me? It sounds like a very chicken way of looking at things.”

“It is,” she said. “But can we walk through the garden first though? Just you and me?”

“That would be beautiful,” I said, still feeling there was a lesson here with more chicken wisdom to help bring life into sharper focus. “You know, Emily, there is a very famous poem beginning with the words ‘she walks in beauty.’ It was written many years ago by someone named Lord Byron. He lived in England, and they have very beautiful gardens there. You walk in beauty, Emily.”

She either wasn’t sure what to say or hadn’t really heard me. So I just watched her walk on ahead.

She had all she needed, including a strong trust in the goodness of the world and everything in it. She just kept putting one foot in front of the other and believing.

Yes, surely there was a lesson or two for me to learn, and perhaps I would ask Gracie about all of this later. But for the moment, I thought it best to follow Emily through the meandering garden pathways and simply enjoy the beauty I saw in her heart.

Like the flowers she loves so much, her heart would be with me only for a season.

You can download a free photo of Emily’s drawing titled “Flowers And Worms” here and perhaps use it as a screensaver or desktop background. It may help to remind you to look for beauty, even in difficult times.

And if we are really lucky, I may be able to convince Emily to give us a lesson on how to draw and paint iris blossoms like she does. “Just a chicken foot, three hearts one way, three hearts the other way, and three fuzzy caterpillars.” Hopefully it will be as easy as she has promised!

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Family Photo Friday! (Hier Wache Ich!)

Family Photo Friday

Today’s photo is a wonderful treasure. The sign says “I Guard Here! Enter At Your Own Risk!”

My chickens and I receive this gift last year, shortly after Seasons Of Friendship was published. It came in a large envelope packed with other surprises from one of our most valued readers named Susanne. She lives in Germany and wrote a variety of posts here on WordPress for a time. Her original drawings and cartoons were what attracted me to her site, and I also especially liked her haiku poems and the photographs which she skillfully paired with them.

One of the things I am enjoying most while illustrating How To Explain Christmas To Chickens is being able to create a visual world beyond what the written world describes. For example, in Seasons Of Friendship, I hid a pair of Gracie’s ballet slippers in one of the illustrations. Most readers have missed this when reading through the book and didn’t know there was anything hidden until reading the “Epilogue.” Then they go back and search for them. It was one of the things that many readers enjoyed about the book.

Yesterday’s post shared a sample illustration from How to Explain Christmas To Chickens. So will there be some hidden objects with special meaning in the drawings? You can be sure that’s definitely something I will be working on.  This particular sign may work very well in the chapter titled “The Opossum.”

I will also be considering the inclusion of other not-so-well-hidden items like the one in today’s “Family Photo Friday” when possible. They will be things which remind us of you, our readers here at “My Life With Gracie,” and serve as a kind of secret between us. (One of the things Pearl will receive as a gift at the end of the novel is a secret, something that will not fit into a Christmas present box, but will fit into a heart quite nicely.) 

My chickens and I are truly grateful for receiving this wonderful gift and even more grateful for Susanne’s friendship and encouragement. (My chickens like how this sign helps them get a good night’s sleep too!)

We also want to gratefully thank all of you, our readers, for your friendship and encouragement. So be on the lookout for a drawing of this sign and perhaps other not-so-hidden objects in How To Explain Christmas To Chickens…and of course, a very well-hidden pair of ballet slippers for one very remarkable chicken!

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Blanche And Pearl…“They Only Ever Had Each Other”

Blanche And Pearl...”They Only Ever Had Each Other”

Today seemed to be a good day to share one of the illustrations which I’ve been working on while my chickens helped some with a few pictures for “My Life With Gracie.” This illustration work really is work!

This is one of four large illustrations for How To Explain Christmas To Chickens. It is for the first section titled “Blanche And Pearl.” Each section will begin with a large illustration and then each chapter will have a smaller panoramic banner illustration. (Imagine just the bottom third of this drawing.)

It is a drawing challenge for me to work with only black lines and gray tones because I definitely miss being able to use color which adds so much life and emotion to a drawing. But with the cost of color printing, it is the only affordable alternative for a book of this length. Having grown up with only a black and white television, I am comfortable seeing the world without color, and I think perhaps the drawing style may somewhat recall a previous time period.

Some things are the same as the drawings which I’ve done from the beginning such as the low horizon line which gives a “chicken’s eye” or “child’s eye” view of the world. Also the illustrations which include people, such as The Bottle Cap Lady, will only show no more than the lower body, not the face. (Not because I can’t draw faces, but because the chickens are the main characters. It’s also important to the story’s message for The Bottle Cap Lady to be anyone anywhere, and facial details or a regular given name would interfere with that.)

You may notice a bit more realism in this drawing. Much of this is because the novel explores Pearl’s real genuine emotions about not being accepted by the other chickens and then later losing Blanche and needing to face life alone. Those themes don’t seem suited to a lighthearted cartoon style of drawing. There are also many straight lines and angular shapes, and only the chickens and the German iris use curved lines and rounded shapes. I think this contrast helps bring attention to the smaller elements in the drawing like the chickens. (Often Pearl feels small and insignificant, though she never gives up hope.)

My goal is for this illustration to capture the relationship between Blanche and Pearl and the feelings expressed by this key sentence from the story’s first part: “They only ever had each other.”

You may be thinking this doesn’t look like a typical Christmas illustration or sound like a typical Christmas story. You are quite right. But then Pearl is not a typical chicken and The Bottle Cap Lady is not a typical neighbor either!

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

How does this drawing look to you? Can you tell which chicken is Pearl? And is this Pearl as you might imagine her in a world of black and white? I live with these chickens and with these illustrations, so it’s often a challenge to see things with different, and perhaps more critical, eyes. Your perspective, even if not-so-favorable, is truly appreciated.